Zhong Kui

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Zhong Kui
A Ming painting of Zhong Kui the Demon Queller with Five Bats, with the five bats representing the five blessings as well as the vase, red coral, and fungi—held by demons—that also contain auspicious symbolism
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetChung Quỳ
Chữ Hán鍾馗
Korean name
Japanese name

Zhong Kui (Chinese: 鍾馗; pinyin: Zhōng Kuí; Korean: 종규, romanizedJonggyu; Japanese: 鍾馗, romanizedShōki; Vietnamese: Chung Quỳ) is a Taoist deity in Chinese mythology, traditionally regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings. He is depicted as a large man with a big black beard, bulging eyes, and a wrathful expression. Zhong Kui is able to command 80,000 demons to do his bidding and is often associated with the five bats of fortune. Worship and iconography of Zhong Kui later spread to other East Asian countries, and he can also be found in the folklores and mythologies of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

In art, Zhong Kui is a frequent subject in paintings and crafts, and his image is often painted on household gates as a guardian spirit as well as in places of business where high-value goods are involved. He is also commonly portrayed in popular media.

King of ghosts[edit]

According to folklore, Zhong Kui travelled with Du Ping (杜平), a friend from his hometown, to take part in the state-wide imperial examinations held in the capital city Chang'an. Though Zhong Kui attained great academic success through his achievement of top honors in the major exams, his rightful title of "Zhuangyuan" (top-scorer) was stripped from him by the then emperor because of his disfigured and ugly appearance.[1]

Extremely enraged, Zhong Kui committed suicide by continually hurling himself against the palace gates until his head was broken, whereupon Du Ping had him buried and laid to rest. During the divine judgment after his death from suicide, Yanluo Wang (the Chinese Underworld Judge) saw much potential in Zhong Kui, intelligent and smart enough to score top honors in the imperial examinations but condemned to Youdu because of the strong grievance. Yama then gave him a title as the king of ghosts and tasked him to hunt, capture, take charge of and maintain discipline and order among all ghosts.

After Zhong Kui became the king of ghosts in Hell, Zhong Kui returned to his hometown on Chinese New Year's eve. To repay Du Ping's kindness, Zhong Kui gave his younger sister in marriage to Du Ping.[2]

Popularization in later dynasties[edit]

Zhong Kui's popularity in folklore can be traced to the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang China (712 to 756). According to Song Dynasty sources, once the Emperor Xuanzong was gravely ill and had a dream in which he saw two ghosts. The smaller of the ghosts stole a purse from imperial consort Yang Guifei and a flute belonging to the emperor. The larger ghost, wearing the hat of an official, captured the smaller ghost, tore out his eye and ate it. He then introduced himself as Zhong Kui. He said that he had sworn to rid the empire of evil. When the emperor awoke, he had recovered from his illness. So he commissioned the court painter Wu Daozi to produce an image of Zhong Kui to show to the officials. This was highly influential to later representations of Zhong Kui.[3][4]


Zhong Kui and his legend became a popular theme in later Chinese painting, art, and folklore. Pictures of Zhong Kui used to be frequently hung up in households to scare away ghosts. His character was and still is especially popular in New Year pictures.[4]

Moreover, the popularity of Zhong Kui gives rise to the idiom "Da Gui Jie Zhong Kui" (打鬼借钟馗), which could be translated as "Borrow the name of Zhong Kui to smash the ghost", which means to finish a task by masquerading it is done for someone greater in power or status. Some argue that Mao Zedong is the first to use this phrase.[5]

In art[edit]

Twentieth-century painter Quan Xianguang (b. 1932) painted Zhong Kui as a burly, hairy man holding a sturdy sword in his bared right arm.[6]


  • Zhong Kui Temple (钟馗庙) in Guanqiao, Hunan
  • Shuiwei Zhengwei Temple (水尾震威宮) in Xizhou, Changhua
  • Guang Lu Temple (光祿廟) in Zhuqi, Chiayi
  • Wu Fu Temple (五福宮) in Wanhua, Taipei
  • Zhong Nan Old Temple (終南古廟), Batu Pahat, Johor
  • Shōki Shrine (鍾馗神社) in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

In popular culture[edit]

Gong Kai's Zhongshan Going on Excursion (13th or 14th century), depicting Zhong Kui and his sister setting out on a hunting expedition, with a retinue of subjugated demons carrying Zhong Kui's sword, household goods, pots of wine, and even smaller demons that they have captured

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 刘, 锡诚. "[刘锡诚]钟馗传说和信仰的滥觞 · 中国民俗学网-中国民俗学会 · 主办 ·". www.chinafolklore.org. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  2. ^ Nagendra Kumar Singh (1997). International encyclopaedia of Buddhism: India [11]. Anmol Publications. pp. 1372–1374. ISBN 978-81-7488-156-4. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  3. ^ Richard Von Glahn (2004). The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture. University of California Press. pp. 122–128. ISBN 978-0-520-92877-0. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b Dillon, Michael, ed. (1998). China: A Cultural and Historical Dictionary. London: Curzon Press. pp. 382. ISBN 0-7007-0439-6.
  5. ^ 吴, 志菲. "毛泽东对"个人崇拜"的态度演变【3】--党史频道-人民网". dangshi.people.com.cn. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  6. ^ Shelagh Vainker and Xin Chen, editors, A Life in Chinese Art: Essays in Honor of Michael Sullivan, p. 83.
  7. ^ Zheng, Zunren (2004). Zhong Kui yan jiu (BOD 1 ban ed.). Taibei Shi: Xiu wei zi xun ke ji gu fen you xian gong si. pp. 225–241. ISBN 9789867614285.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to 鍾馗 at Wikimedia Commons